(Disclaimer: This entry is laced with testosterone. Hey! I’m a guy! Deal.)
Tennis has been a BIG part of my life. I started playing while in grammar school and continued playing, with increasing intensity and competence, over the course of four decades. I loved the head-to-head competition, the long hours on the court spent in training to develop the skills necessary. I was a tennis junkie, practicing most nights (either indoors or outdoors), a participant in various competitive leagues, playing for five or six hours per day on weekends, vacationing at tennis camps, reading about, spectating and reveling in the game.
Those days are over. My knees and hips are held together by virtue of baling wire, bubblegum and prayer, severely damaged by the thousands of hours spent on hard courts. Passion gave way to pain, but I gotta say...I still love the game.
Hand-in-hand with my love of the game came admiration for its champions. My affections began with those magnificent Aussies, Rod Laver and John Newcombe. Others followed in succession: Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer. Each champion held dominion over the hard courts, the grass or clay, during their days in the sun.
I thrilled to witness their excellence.
As the years sped past, as my skills decayed, as I witnessed one champion after another fall in defeat at the feet of a younger, hungrier adversary, I came to view decisive matches, these inevitable surrenders of the crown, as metaphors for life itself. Life as old as the echoes of lions roaring across the verdant grasslands of the Serengeti.
Lions are the only cats that live in groups, which are called prides. Prides are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young. All of a pride's lionesses are related, and female cubs typically
stay with the group as they age. Young males eventually leave and establish their own prides by taking over a group headed by another male.
The male lion is born destined to rule. In that fierce, relentless struggle to give birth to life, to survive, the male lion must grow to dominate his hunting ground, to foster and defend his pride. Lions do as they must. Every lion must face his challengers. No matter his strength, his wiles, his courage and fortitude, the lion in winter is fated to meet young muscle, supple sinew and hot blood, and is, literally, doomed to relinquish his throne. And life goes on...the night air fills with the roars of new kings...and the yelps of the newborn.
Life inexorably marches on.
I’ve never been to Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve never seen a lion in the wild, nor heard their roars echoing in the twilight.
But I have seen the lion-hearted. I’ve seen lions in winter. I’ve watched great champions stride upon the courts of battle, none more legendary than the clipped grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon, where champions come to be crowned...and dethroned.
And so it came to pass that, this past Sunday, Roger Federer (held by some/many to be the GREATEST tennis player, ever) met Raphael Nadal on Centre Court, to vie (yet, again) for the Wimbledon trophy.
Federer had been crowned the Champion of Wimbledon five years running. He vanquished Nadal last year, in an epic struggle. They were fated to meet again.
An epic match, it was. Five sets...two tie-breakers...rain delays...the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history. When all was said and done, as day gave way to night, Federer lost to Nadal, the handsome Spaniard rippling with muscle and sinew and desire. Federer, the formidable champion, conceded nothing, never lost his nerve nor his wisdom. He simply lost...to a stronger, faster, hungrier lion.
And he cried.
I knew he would.
I knew he would because I, myself, am a lion in winter (well...OK...
more a pussycat than a lion, but work with me, here, people
I could sense the outcome, well before night fell and the accolades accorded. Roger Federer had met his match...as all lions must.
I was ineffably moved, as twilight descended upon the field of battle, as Raphael Nadal circumnavigated the Court with prized trophy in hand and cameras panned the cheering throng. There, in the fading light, stood Bjorn Borg, applauding. His mane completely gray...
his summer days (like mine) long past.
We lions in winter understood.
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